Nov. 30, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
After turning off the microphone from his work with the Badger Sports Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers his take on the Badgers' 31-24 loss to Penn State.
SEQUENCE OF THE GAME
After spotting Penn State seven points on its opening possession -- only the fourth touchdown the Wisconsin defense has allowed at home this season -- the Badgers counter-punched with scoring drives of 71 yards (11 plays) and 77 yards (also 11 plays) to grab the momentum and a 14-7 second quarter lead.
Two of the unsung members of the offense -- Brian Wozniak and Jeff Duckworth -- were on the receiving end of the two scoring passes of 4 and 20 yards, respectively, from Joel Stave. Duckworth was pressed into more extended service after Jordan Fredrick was injured on the opening kickoff.
So despite being out of sync throughout the first quarter, the Badgers appeared to be in much better shape, if not in control of the game, especially on defense. Wisconsin was playing without its second-leading tackler in safety Michael Caputo and his absence had already been felt to that point.
Nonetheless, Penn State had gone three-and-out on its first series of the second quarter and the Nittany Lions faced a third-and-7 from the PSU 32 on its very next possession following the Duckworth touchdown. Force a punt here and the Badgers might have been able break open the game.
But it didn’t play out that way. Showing the poise of a senior, not the inexperience of a true freshman, quarterback Christian Hackenberg connected with Eugene Lewis on a 29-yard pass completion that kept the drive alive.
Two plays later, UW cornerback Sojourn Shelton, also a true freshman, was called for pass interference in the end zone. After a false start penalty, one of eight on the Nittany Lions, Hackenberg went to his go-to receiver Allen Robinson who made a tough catch on the UW 2-yard line.
On second-and-goal, the Badgers inexplicable failed to cover Lewis -- no one on the defense even saw him -- and UW head coach Gary Andersen was unable to get the attention of the line judge to call a timeout, which resulted in a “gift” 3-yard touchdown pass from Hackenberg to Lewis.
This defensive lapse would foreshadow many others on Penn State’s first series of the third quarter, a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that put the Badgers in a hole that they couldn’t dig out from. Twice, the defense lined up with fewer than 11; which is inexcusable at any level of competition.
For a second consecutive year, Penn State won its “bowl game” at the expense of Wisconsin. Few saw this one coming in Madison, maybe nobody outside of the Nittany Lions’ locker room. Head coach Bill O’Brien implemented a solid offensive game plan and Hackenberg executed it; the combination kept the UW defense on its heels.
The game was won or lost, depending on your perspective, on the line of scrimmage. Beyond that, when you can’t get lined up properly before the snap, you can’t play aggressively. That was also a factor. The Badgers simply haven’t had personnel issues to this degree on defense prior to Saturday, and it turned out to be costly, particularly since the offense was not good enough on this day to outscore an opponent, at least not this one.
This is not the first time that these seniors have been challenged to respond, challenged to answer some adversity, and they’ve always measured up in the past.
There’s no reason to think that they won’t again in the Badgers’ bowl game.